Working in Paris
I’m a technical writer, working mainly for software development companies, and I’m lucky to have a job that enables me to work in non-English speaking countries. In 2006/7 I managed to acquire a job (and an apartment) in Paris.
It’s never easy changing countries, and the apartment needed renovations, but eventually my wife and I could settle down to some sort of routine and a semblance of normalcy.
I worked for a software company at Levallois, right near the end of metro line three.
In most of the other countries in which I’ve worked, offices tend to be open-plan with, at best, low-rise partitions separating desks. By contrast, the workplace in Paris consisted of many small offices, each holding at most six or so people, and often only two or three.
This is just as well because, upon arrival at work, each engineer would do a round of the room shaking hands and wishing each person ‘bonjour’. In an open-plan office environment, this would have been a major exercise probably lasting until morning tea.
Another difference was that in Paris, when you enter a workplace elevator, you say ’Bonjour’ to the other passengers. And not just a single group ‘bonjour’ either. It’s a ’bonjour’ for everyone, and a corresponding ’au revoir’ for everyone when you exit.
I have to say that the canteen served the best food of any of the places I’ve worked, and the food was cheap – heavily subsidised by the company. There was an abundant choice of imaginative and excellent dishes, accompanied with a wine of your choice should you so desire it.
And if you chose to bypass the canteen and forgo the subsidised meal, you got a five euro credit voucher, redeemable at the end of each month. It was worth skipping some meals at the canteen – after a while, at the end of a month, you could collect a cheque-book of vouchers that were valid at almost all Parisian restaurants.
There is something about the experience of swanning down a Paris street full of excellent restaurants with a fistful of credit vouchers that has particular appeal.
I liked commuting on the metro, observing the other commuters, being entertained by the buskers who skipped from carriage to carriage, occasionally being asked directions in halting French by some tourist or other, but after a few months I acquired a bike.
At first, it was to enable me to get to work when there was a metro strike, but I came to enjoy the half-hour ride to and from work.
On the very first day I rode to work, I pulled up at a set of lights on Rue Poissonnière beside a young female cyclist. As I came to a stop, my right foot got stuck in the pedal’s toe clip, and I toppled over. Luckily the cyclist beside me broke my fall.
It was with a sense of extreme mortification and embarrassment that I clambered from on top of the cyclist, and to my feet. My sense of mortification, along with the effusive apologies that I felt were in order, pacified the cyclist however, and she managed to convey the impression that really, it was OK, this sort of thing had happened to her many times in the past, and she was not overly bothered by it.
Riding in peak-hour Paris is a rather fraught experience – you need your wits about you and not a little luck to survive, especially on the way home. The average Parisian commuter-motorist, after an emotion-charged day at work, is not at all in a forgiving mood, and is definitely not an animal to be trifled with.
You got the impression with some motorists that there was nothing they would like more than to feel the bump-bump under their wheels as they dispatched another cyclist. It was always with a sense of relief of an evening when I rode past the bollards on the pedestrianised street where I lived. “Whew, another trip survived.”
Thank you Dan Smith for your guest post.
How do you find working in Paris?All images © Dan smith
This is a really funny article! Paris by bike is wonderful, although you usually go through some intriguing adventures taking the metro as well. I didn’t understand what you meant by “a bonjour to everyone”. Does that mean you shake everyone’s hand in the elevator? I think you’ve found yourself an pleasant job. Hold on to it 😉
Great piece! I would never be daring enough to ride a bike in Paris. I look at the Velibs with envy, but I know that it would be foolish on my part to rent one…
Elizabeth, you should try! Check out the separate bike lanes on the velib site and start at one end. There are rarely very many people on the path that goes from Bastille perpendicular to the canal.
Great article, fun to hear about working in France especially from a foreigner’s perspective. Would do almost anything to get my hands on those vouchers 🙂
Just have to remember to use them! My often very absent-minded son ended the year with a whole book of vouchers that could no longer be used. However, he gave them to the Red Cross because they can still redeem them so all was not lost.